Experts: Including BMI in evaluation could be discriminatory

PETALING JAYA: Is it fair to tie an employee’s body mass index (BMI) to their performance evaluation in the name of promoting healthy living and wellness?

That’s the weighty question being debated, with workers being unhappy about it while experts say it is discriminatory and there are other ways to inspire a healthy workforce.

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In recent times, employers, including certain government agencies, have included BMI as a component of performance evaluation in what is being touted as a bid to encourage healthy living and wellness among the workforce.

A 2013 circular issued by the Public Service Department even included BMI as a provision for 16 uniformed frontliner service schemes that fall under the enforcement, defence and security categories.

However, The Star has learnt that a statutory body, which primarily conducts desk-bound duties, has recently included BMI as part of its employees’ salary review.

According to an internal memo sighted by The Star, the wellness component carries 10% in the yearly appraisal, with BMI and involvement in wellness activities making up 5% each.

Some employees are upset over the requirement that potentially impacts their annual salary increment.

One of them said there was no prior memo or circular about the rule incorporated in March.

The employee, who preferred not to be named, claimed that many of her colleagues have been distressed and anxious over the policy.

She questioned the fairness and logic behind the requirement, which gives an edge to people with a lower weight.

“We want a justification for this discriminatory policy, especially when the percentage has nothing to do with the actual work performance,” she added.

BMI measures body fat based on a person’s height and weight. A score of less than 18.5 is underweight; 18.5 to 24.9 indicates healthy weight; 25.0 to 29.9 is overweight; and 30.0 or higher is obese.

Experts said while this may work for jobs that require a certain level of physical fitness, it cannot be taken as a one-size-fits-all condition.

Although including BMI in performance evaluation is not against the law, they feel that it may come across as discriminatory.

Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) secretary-general Abdul Rahman Mohd Nordin said while the agency has the right to implement such a policy, it is still unfair to impose it as a blanket order.

“It should perhaps apply only to those in enforcement as these personnel need to stay agile at work. But in statutory bodies or other agencies that don’t require their workers to be physically active, the policy will be unfair, especially when it affects their salaries,” he said.

Abdul Rahman said to ensure that its employees are in good health, the agency could provide recreational facilities in the workplace or subsidise gym subscriptions for them.

Legal practitioner Chia Swee Yik said BMI should be used as a public health benchmark instead of job performance. Asked if companies could impose such a practice, he said it depends on whether it is specifically spelled out in the employment contract.

Labour activist Sumitha Shaanthinni Kishna said any policy that links BMI to workers’ KPI (key performance indicator) could discriminate against plus-sized individuals.

“Such a policy also borders on body-shaming, suggesting that obese people are not worthy of employment,” she said, adding that under the Employment Act, obesity is no grounds for dismissal.

Sumitha said companies should instead encourage a balanced working environment by getting their staff to do some walking or stretching while at work, or even adopt a healthy community meal at work.

Malaysia HR Forum CEO Arulkumar Singaraveloo said there are no laws in Malaysia currently that explicitly address the adoption of BMI as part of KPI evaluations.

“It is hard to fathom that only employees with a healthy BMI can perform while those outside of the healthy range cannot,” he said.

“The intention here is to motivate employees with some pressure to stay fit; however, it may demotivate those who are able to perform despite their BMI status.”

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